It’s summertime, the weekend’s looking like a hot one, and you’re antsy to escape your neighborhood and jump into some wonderfully cold Atlantic Ocean water.
Instead of heading down to Coney Island or the Rockaways yet again, consider going a little farther south to one of the coolest towns on the Eastern Seaboard: Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Only an hour and a half from New York City by both train and car, Asbury Park has been called the “Brooklyn of the Jersey Shore” in recent years. However, it’s way more than a shallow reflection of our beloved borough; with tons of interesting history, rad local restaurants, and bars that would easily thrive in NYC, it has a thread of music history woven through nearly every street, along with a comfortable, welcoming vibe that’s all its own.
Hop on the NJ Transit and embrace your best weekend: This is our guide to the perfect 48 hours down the shore in Asbury Park.
On your walk through downtown from the train station, stop for some tacos at this local fave. The marinated pork belly and Korean BBQ-style bulgogi are always good, but even meat eaters are fans of their spicy soy-glazed fried tofu. Whatever you get, load up on their three house-made kimchis and just-spicy-enough Asian pear hot sauce. For a fast-casual fusion joint, MOGO is shockingly, reliably delicious—and they’re always playing early 2000s pop-punk over the speaker system, which is a joy, duh.
1PM: SAUNTER INTO THE SHOPS ON COOKMAN AVENUE
Cookman Ave in Downtown Asbury Park is full of opportunities for window shopping, featuring cheap vintage clothing stores, record shops that have been open forever, and mid-century furniture stores with finds that would make your coolest neighbors jealous.
For something a little more interactive, stop by Catsbury Park Cat Cafe and Tea Lounge, opened by the long-time sound tech of local band The Bouncing Souls. Not only can you hang out with cute cats all afternoon, but they’ve got cat yoga, trivia days, and the opportunity for the best weekend vacation souvenir ever: adopting a rescue cat from the streets of New Jersey.
4PM: CHECK INTO YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS
For something lively: Book a room at The Asbury, featuring simple yet trendy rooms and amenities where something is always happening, from record release parties and outdoor movie screenings to open mic nights and drag queen karaoke. Or just spend a few hours relaxing by the pool with a frozen cocktail from their VW bus-turned-bar.
For something quaint: Just a few walkable blocks south of Asbury Park is Ocean Grove, filled with gorgeous Victorian homes and beachfront views. You’ll find loads of cute bed and breakfasts there, but the town is totally dry, so bring your own alcohol if you plan on an in-suite nightcap later.
Whether or not you have a dog, head to Wonder Bar before 7pm for Yappy Hour, when locals bring their dogs and hang out in the backyard over cheap drinks. Not only is the venue itself full of musical history (think surprise Bruce Springsteen shows and after-show hangouts with Bon Jovi and friends), but a dog-based happy hour means making cool weekend friends is easy. Who doesn’t like talking about their dogs? Settle into the evening with a cold beer while enjoying the ocean breeze and the soul-warming sight of puppies playing.
A museum visit? In the middle of an effervescent summer weekend trip? Yes, absolutely. Go back in time at New Jersey’s pinball museum, right on the boardwalk. With over 200 playable pinball machines, from glowing 1950s electromechanical machines to sleek modern digital machines, plus ‘80s video games and other arcade faves like Skee-Ball and air hockey, it’s more than just a museum: It’s the best arcade ever.
This notorious multi-room space is part pizza parlor, part bar, part dance club, and 100 percent Jersey Shore. And if you’re expecting a bumping club to be lacking in the food department, you’d be mistaken. Behind the party-style atmosphere is a menu of Neapolitan pizzas, topped with imported Italian tomatoes and homemade cheese, then cooked to perfection in hand-built Italian ovens. Enjoy your delicious dinner, then hit the dance floor.
12PM: SIT DOWN FOR BRUNCH AT CARDINAL PROVISIONS
Enjoy a lazy Saturday afternoon with outdoor seating at this downtown brunch spot featuring unusual versions of brunch comfort classics. Think lox and bagels with colorful beet-horseradish cream cheese, scrambled eggs made in the style of cacio e pepe pasta, and ricotta toast featuring rosewater, pistachios, and honey.
Of course, you could go full Jersey and get a pork roll, egg, and cheese. No judgments here. (But no matter what, don’t skip the chili deviled eggs, made with cilantro, lime, and Korean chili paste.)
2PM: SPEND THE DAY AT THE BEACH
Because if you go down the shore, you obviously need to go to the beach. Walk north past the Asbury Park Convention Hall for a quieter sunbathing experience, or hang out close to it for easy access to classic boardwalk faves: drinks at The Beach Bar, the super fine shaved ice at Betty’s Icebox, classic funnel cakes and soft serve from local vendors, and easy-breezy beach shopping all over the place. (Yes, you totally need that fancy handmade kaftan.)
Unlike NYC beaches, you’ve gotta buy a pass to hit the sand in New Jersey; a wristband is $7 on the weekends, so bring cash and you’ll be welcome on the surprisingly clean beach all day.
7PM: GET A QUIET DINNER AT MOONSTRUCK
After a long day on the water, nothing’s better than taking a hot shower at your hotel and heading out for a delicious dinner. The best parts of this three-story restaurant are its wrap-around porches, where you can sit en plein air and enjoy your meal while looking over Wesley Lake’s swan boats and the Victorian homes of Ocean Grove as the sun sets. Order a carafe of rose sangria and split the Mediterranean platter, full of grilled and roasted vegetables, savory spreads, and fresh cheeses.
9PM: CATCH A SHOW
Asbury Park is known for its historic music scene, and the number of great bands that play here on the regular is pretty impressive for such a small town. For you, the weekend visitor, that translates to seeing pretty big names in very small settings: aka, the best concert experiences ever.
And there are so many options! Shows at House of Independents are always well-priced, but sell out quickly. Asbury Lanes, the bowling-alley-turned-awesome-music-venue, is reopening early this summer; its shows have always been deliciously intimate and full of fans that know every word to every song.
Of course, The Stone Pony is a landmark in itself and no matter who’s playing, you’re guaranteed to have a blast drinking, singing, and soaking in the energy of the crowd. Plus, on summer weekends, there’s a good chance someone’s playing on the outdoor Summer Stage facing the ocean. If you can snag a ticket, do it. Otherwise, you can just hang out outside the venue for free, enjoying the sea breeze and some great music at the same time.
9AM: EAT BREAKFAST ON THE BOARDWALK
Stop by The Domesticated Dad for a made-from-scratch breakfast, served in a brown paper bag like a homemade school lunch. This is yet another prime opportunity for a pork roll, egg, and cheese—otherwise, go for the Kirk and The Sergeant, which is literally a surprise breakfast sandwich. (What could go wrong? It’ll totally be delicious.)
If you can manage to get there before 11 or so, the waterfront is almost peaceful, with locals riding colorful cruiser bikes down the boardwalk and practicing yoga on the sand. This time of day on the beach, with brown-bagged breakfast in hand, is the perfect balance to a loud, vibrant weekend.
11AM: GET AN ICED COFFEE AT ASBURY PARK ROASTERY AND CHECK OUT THE CONVENTION HALL
Step out of the sun and let your eyes adjust to the shaded Grand Arcade, full of local shops and restaurants. At the far northwest corner sits Asbury Park Roastery’s boardwalk location, the place to go for an excellent iced coffee, made from beans roasted right down 2nd Avenue.
While you’re there, check the theater marquis to see what’s happening that day at the Convention Hall and the neighboring Paramount Theater; there’s almost always something interesting going on, from comedy shows and TED talks to tattoo conventions and vegan pop-up shops. You might end up staying till the sun sets.
12PM: SNAG A CONE FROM COOKMAN CREAMERY
What weekend on the shore is complete without a perfect ice cream come? Walking back through downtown to get to the train station, you have to stop at Cookman Creamery. This ice cream spot features inventive seasonal flavors in both traditional and vegan bases, including a full “medicinal” menu so your dessert can feel like a beneficial treat—even when it’s just as sweet as the vacation you’ve just treated yourself to.